My take: An interesting zombie film from Spain that has a good balance of scary and cheesy scenes.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
1972 seems to have been full of characters displaying wonton acts of hubris. In Baron Blood, a character decides to go and awaken his long dead and devilishly evil ancestor. In Tombs of the Blind Dead, a girl goes and decides it is a good idea to sleep alone in an old, abandoned monastery. Why not? What could happen?
Then, when she winds up dead, her friends decide they should also go to this old monastery. This despite the fact that every local who speaks of that place is absolutely terrified.
Hubris, hubris, and more hubris.
They should have known that the monastery was inhabited by zombie-like, demon worshipping Templars. It is a horror movie, after all. What did they expect?
Those are some creepy blind, dead Templars in Tombs of the Blind Dead.
And those devil-worshipping zombies are quite terrifying. They elevate the film above the standard horror stories of the era, and paved the way for three sequels to this story.
I would recommend this movie to people who like zombie films and 70s horror.
I got a copy from Netflix on DVD, which had a subtitled and a dubbed version. Here is a trailer on YouTube:
My take: This movie is made up of five gruesome tales. So, there’s sure to be at least one you like.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Five strangers are on a tour of a catacombs. They fall behind the tour guide in the tunnels, and find themselves lost. A door opens mysteriously. When they enter the room, a robed man appears, and the door slides shut behind them. This is the cryptkeeper (no, he does not look like that beloved little skeletal corpse from the TV version in the 90s).
He bids them to set, which the group begrudgingly does, while asking why they are there. The cryptkeeper takes each person in turn, revealing the stories of how they arrived at the catacombs. Each story is filled with its own horrors of course.
Poster for Tales From the Crypt
Bonus: Peter Cushing stars in what is probably the most morally repugnant tale in the bunch. This tale alone makes the movie worth a watch.
But I liked all of the stories. Multi-story films make it easier to get through bad elements, acting or stories. You simply have to wait a few minutes for the next tale.
I would recommend this to fans of classic horror, 1970s horror and Peter Cushing. Also, if you also liked Tales From the Crypt when it aired on HBO in the 90s, you will likely enjoy this as well. Both this film and the TV show are based on the same comic book series.
My take: This is a lot of cheesy, Italian-gothic goodness. Tropes abound but there are enough scares to keep it fun and interesting.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Like many of the films I have watched previously, Devil’s Nightmare is chock full of gothic horror tropes:
There’s a creepy castle (with bonus torture devices in the attic)
The baron in said castle has a bubbling, smoky laboratory (though he does alchemy, not science)
There’s a demonic curse on the baron
A group of tourists get stranded at said castle with said baron
One thing that sets this movie apart from those before it, however, is the blatant integration of sex into the film. While the group of tourists are settling into their rooms, the two young females decide to share a room. And it is not just because they are scared. The movie seems to suddenly change genres and become a 1970s girl-on-girl porno.
Poster for Devil’s Nightmare.
After that scene, sex serves as an undercurrent to the film. The baron’s family lives under a demonic curse: every first-born female is a succubus and serves at the devil’s whim. As you can guess, a succubus appears to spoil the group’s stay at the castle. She punishes each for their sins in turn, while wearing very revealing clothing.
Even through all this cheesiness, the film is downright fun to watch. As a result, I would recommend this to people who like gothic horror and Italian horror.
I bought a DVD copy of the movie from Amazon. Here is the trailer on YouTube:
My take: The film has multiple stories, all taking place in the same house. It’s good for those of us with little patience or who tire of a story quickly.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Some horror does not lend itself to a whole film. Stretching the story out can ruin a tight, short horror movie. Case in point: Twilight Zone episodes. I would not want many of them to be longer, and they could not be any scarier.
For these reason, I have a soft spot in my heart for movies like the House That Dripped Blood. There is enough change that I don’t get bored, and I get my fill of succinct scares.
This is a truly excellent poster for the film.
There are four stories in the House That Dripped Blood. They include:
A writer who begins to believe the strangler in his book is real
A retiree (played by Peter Cushing) who becomes obsessed with a waxwork in town
A father (played by Christopher Lee) who is trying to keep control over his young daughter
A horror movie actor who finds himself turning into one of his characters
I enjoyed each one, and I would happily recommend the movie to people who like British horror, Christopher Lee/Peter Cushing movies, and supernatural horror.
I got the movie via a disc from Netflix. Here is the trailer on YouTube:
My take: It’s got a storyline I was not able to predict. As a result, it’s a solid Spanish horror film.
Rating: 2 out of 4 stars
Called La Residencia in Spain, The House That Screamed is a suspense-driven horror film that I was unable to predict. I’ve noticed this with many foreign horror films. The typical tropes and expectations go out the window. Without the same cultural norms and history, you don’t know where the story will go next. This is how I felt while watching this movie.
The basic plot involves a boarding school for girls. There is a stern headmistress and her lurking son. There’s a sadistic girl who oversees (and punishes) other girls. We follow the new student, Thérèse as she orients herself to these new surroundings. And girls keep running away for some reason…
The lobby card for The House That Screamed.
To tell you more could ruin the fun. While it has a unique plot, I don’t know if I would recommend this film to just anyone. Not only is it difficult to get ahold of, it is also not a stand-out horror film that needs to be watched. As a result, I would recommend this movie to only die-hard fans of horror, including Spanish horror and period pieces.
I got a copy of the movie by ordering a DVD from Amazon. Here is the trailer in Spanish from YouTube:
My take: This continuation of Hammer Film’s Frankenstein is well worth watching. It elevates Frankenstein into the ultimate villain.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
This was the fifth Frankenstein film from Hammer Films, but you wouldn’t know it by watching. I was surprised to learn that I had missed three films in between. I say this to note the fact that you don’t need to have seen the previous films to feel right at home watching Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.
Frankenstein and his blackmailed assistant getting to work in Frankenstein Must be Destroyed.
The film jumps right in with Baron Frankenstein, played still by Peter Cushing, up to his old antics. He is determined to reanimate his hodgepodge creations and now needs the help of a fellow scientist to learn the tricks for transplanting a brain.
The problem? That scientist happens to be locked up in an asylum and is no longer able to speak. Frankenstein is determined to get at the information in this poor man’s addled mind, and he will do anything to learn his secrets.
I found this film to be a fun and interesting story from beginning to end. You can’t help but get wrapped up in the story, and you may even find yourself yelling the title of the film at the screen by the end. It’s a fitting title.
I would recommend this movie to fans of Hammer Horror, Frankenstein stories and class horror. I got the movie through Netflix’s DVD service. Here is the trailer on YouTube to whet your whistle:
My take: Roman Polanski’s talent as a director shines through in this tale of a married pregnant woman who fears that her baby will be stolen by witches..
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Every time I watch Rosemary’s Baby, I notice something new. On this last viewing, I noticed that the real estate agent blocks Guy Woodhouse at the entrance to every room while showing the apartment at the start of the film. It forces Guy to squeeze past the agent while his wife, Rosemary Woodhouse, breezes into rooms unencumbered. Is this because Guy’s opinion is unimportant? Was this a sign of the times or did the agent want to sell her on the property for a reason?
This type of subtle detail sets Rosemary’s Baby apart from other films from the era, and it showcases the keen eye of the director Roman Polanski.
Rosemary fleeing in fear. Of what? Watch it to find out.
When watching this movie, you have to concentrate and pay attention to the details. I made the mistake once of showing this movie at a horror movie marathon/party with some friends. It does not lend itself well to the side conversations and giggling of a group of marathon movie watchers. Instead, I recommend dimming the lights, grabbing a drink and some popcorn, and settling in alone to watch this movie from beginning to end.
This movie fits right in with the satan-worshipping horror films of the era. But I would also recommend this movie to anyone who likes supernatural horror films and scary movies without a lot of gore.
There was a recent rerelease of the movie on bluray and a mini-series remake of the film for television. Here is the trailer on YouTube:
My take: This movie is essential to the horror cannon and was the genesis of countless zombie films.
Rating: 4 out of 4 stars
Produced for a mere $114,000 in 1967, Night of the Living Dead continues to be one of the greatest zombie films ever created. It was George A. Romero’s first feature-length film, and it still influences zombie stories and films today.
Poster for Night of the Living Dead
What makes it so terrific?
There are no weird rituals: Unlike the zombie films that came before it like White Zombie or the Plague of the Zombies, Night of the Living Dead cut out all the Haitian mythology and rituals. It cuts right to the core of what makes a good horror film: the stories of the individuals who are facing the horror.
It’s in black and white: Back when I lived in New York, I used to buy cheap DVD copies of new theatrical releases on the street. One odd thing I discovered: horror movies are scarier when the picture is shoddy and you can’t quite see everything. Likewise, the use of black and white in Night of the Living Dead stands out in its time, when color was taking over the motion picture industry. It gives it an eerie quality that color may have ruined.
There is no pointless romance: So many horror movies, especially during this era, focus on some romantic interest. This film does away with all of that so you are forced to focus solely on the terror of a zombie attack.
It’s got the first African-American lead actor in a horror film: George Romero did not plan to hire a black lead actor. According to his preface to The Complete Night of the Living Dead Filmbook, Romero says, “We cast a black man not because he was black, but because we liked Duane’s audition better than others we had seen.” when you watch Duane Jones’ performance, you can see why.
As a result of these elements (and others that would spoil the film for those who haven’t seen it), I would make this required watching for anyone who professes a love of horror films or zombie stories.
It’s available on DVD, through Hulu or on Amazon’s Instant Watch. Here’s the trailer on YouTube:
My take: Horror meets science fiction in this Hammer horror classic.
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
When science fiction and horror combine, terrifying things can happen. You never know what might happen next when the rules are being broken and boundaries pushed.
For this reason, science fiction horror has always been one of my favorite subgenres. Aliens, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and The Fly are just a few of the frightening tales that come from this combination. The Quatermass Xperiment and Quatermass and the Pit also stand out as an excellent examples of this.
Quatermass and the Pit takes place in London’s present day, present day being 1967. While digging to expand an Underground station, workers discover skulls and bones. The archeologists step in and find something even more interesting, an artifact that the first assume is a bomb. But it turns out to be so much more.
Poster for Quatermass and the Pit.
It’s got aliens, it’s got ancient skulls, and it’s got a theory for the creation of man that is downright scary.
If you like science fiction horror, watch this movie. I would also recommend it to fans of classic science fiction and fans of Hammer horror films.
I watched it online on YouTube. Here’s the trailer:
I’m almost halfway through watching all of the movies in the book Studies in Terror. I’ve watched nearly 60 movies. I say nearly because there are still some movies I’ve been unable to find. I’ve still got about 70 movies to go.
So far, I’m really happy I’ve been doing this. I’ve seen some great movies, some mediocre movies and some downright terrible films. But each one I watch makes me feel that much more smug and knowledgeable in the realm of horror. I highly recommend it.
I decided to continue and edit the list I created after I watched 30 films. It’s split into three sections: movies you should see, movies only die-hard fans of the genre need to see, and movies you can skip. Movies I was unable to find are listed at the end. It is in descending order; my favorites are higher on the list.
Movies You Should See
Psycho: If you haven’t seen this movie, go see it. Right now. I’m not kidding.
White Zombie: This is only low on the list because I did not like it the first time I watched it. However, now that I’ve seen lots of Bela Lugosi, this is definitely one of his better roles.
Werewolf of London: I really liked the werewolf lore in this movie, even though it doesn’t have the great makeup that The Wolf Man has.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari: I’m going to admit that I didn’t like this movie much when I first watched it. Having watched 29 subsequent films, however, it is easy to see what a huge influence it was. Plus, it has Conrad Veidt, who was in The Hands of Orlac and Casablanca.
The Brides of Dracula: This sequel to Hammer Films’ Dracula continues the story with more vampires and more Peter Cushing.
Peter Cushing is a badass vampire hunter.
Onibaba: Scary Japanese story about two women doing anything to survive set in the days of the samarai.
Tales of Terror: It’s got Vincent Price, Peter Lorre and Basil Rathbone in three Poe-inspired tales.